I'm In The UK To Study But Racism Has Taught Me A Lesson I Will Never Forget
I won't date white women anymore.Share this quote
So let me set the premise straight before expanding upon my hot take - I’m a brown guy from India. For the last year, I have been living in the town of Brighton as an international student pursuing a Postgraduate degree in Applied Social Psychology from the University of Sussex.
This has been a strange year for me in many aspects, both personal and professional. There are a lot of things I have learnt in my time here, but there were two key lessons:
a) You’re going to face Islamophobia if you’re brown, regardless of whether you’re Muslim or hate Muslims more passionately than white Europeans themselves;Share this quote
b) Racism will become a part and parcel of your life- you’ll be seen and perceived differently and will be accepted, only if you act like them at the expense of your core cultural identity.Share this quote
It is the latter that I want to talk about through the lens of racial tensions, stereotypes, and gender dynamics.
I want to share something that recently happened with me. One fine evening, a few days ago, I saw this girl at a bus stop who also works part-time at the same McDonald's as me and who
happens to be British Bangladeshi. We even share the same regional dialect/language – Sylheti- although she refuses to converse with me in the same. She prefers to speak in English, with her polished London accent, something I didn’t really bother about since my spoken English is acceptable and comprehensible to the Western populace (thanks to two hundred years of
colonialism and over twenty years of Eurocentric education in a strictly English medium curriculum and setting), and I didn’t try to read too much into it either.
We have had pleasant conversations at work before and so naturally, upon seeing her, I went up to her and said “Hey!” but to my surprise and dismay, she didn’t respond to my pleasantry. She didn’t say anything. She had a strange expression of indifference on her face, as if she had never seen me before – as if I were invisible. Simply put, she refused to acknowledge my presence as a human being.
I’d be normally shocked at this treatment but in the one year of having lived in the UK, one thing I have learned was that the English are a strange lot. They can come off as extremely standoffish. You meet them, have a really nice and pleasant conversation, think you had a real connection there (gross overestimation!), but the chances are that the next time they see you, they most likely wouldn’t even say a simple “Hi” or if one is in a rush, nod their head in acknowledgement to send a silent reaffirmation that they recognise you. Giving you the cold shoulder is sort of the national hobby of the country.
Therefore, when asked to share my experience of living in this country, my standard response to everyone is, “Well, the weather is cold but the people are colder.”Share this quote
Anyway as the bus took off, a white guy boarded the bus a few stops later. Coincidentally enough, he also happens to work at the same McDonald's as both of us. She took notice of him
and immediately smiled at him, gesturing him to sit next to her. Both get into a flirtatious conversation like any random young people. It was clearly visible in her eyes. I was observing all
of this from a safe distance and I definitely felt hurt.
I think it is imperative that I make something very clear at this juncture: I was not interested in her romantically or sexually and I did not try profiling the said girl in terms of her future prospects with me. Now it's one thing if she were attracted to him. I don’t know whether she was already attracted to him prior to this incident and quite frankly, I could not care for that as that is none of my business. What stung me was this differential treatment and being denied the opportunity to be seen and heard. In all honesty, this is worse than facing direct or indirect racism and I have experienced both during my time in the UK.
I've learnt that racist attitudes extend beyond simply treating someone as an inferior due to their racial characteristics. Internalised racism also includes the idea that white men are angels and brown men are the worst thing on this planet and yes, she's a clear victim of that. I have even heard her talk about her insecurity regarding her teeth with other white girls at work before. She thinks that her teeth are too South-Asian. But I thought this was mostly an internalised sense of self-loathing resulting from having grown up in a predominantly white society that fosters white standards of beauty but I didn't anticipate that she'd extend this internalised racism to others of her community as well. But upon closer inspection, I have realised that this is only a natural extension. After all, "you chase what you lack".
If she hates herself for being Asian, she will be able to erase her Asian consciousness only when not only does she adopt white culture, but white culture also adopts her. But that's the thing - do you think they would acknowledge a brown woman with an accent in a saree when they can socialise with a white woman? I believe this settles the age old debate that race in no way is a biological construct but a social construct and that the bodies of people of colour are more politicised than white bodies.
I also feel obligated to dedicate a paragraph especially to brown people living in the diaspora. So let me begin by outright stating that brown goras (a slang used in the Indian subcontinent to refer to white people) are the absolute worst. I feel, in many instances, they are far more regressive than the brown people who live in the subcontinent. They rigidly follow the caste
system, proudly practice endogamy, harbour racist notions about other brown communities, and look down upon black people since they believe that they're higher up the ladder of racial hierarchy.
One possible explanation for this could be the fact that these people of Indian origin were cut off from the social and cultural changes that took place in the subcontinent in the last century and they continued preaching their cultural practices in isolation but it could be countered when one wonders why the liberal atmosphere and norms of the Western world had no impact on these regressive practices. Some might say it was probably because many of these brown communities continue to live in gated neighbourhoods and ghettos and don't really socialise with the local culture and customs.
That is why it was really funny for me to watch these brown folks here fashioning the Pride flag in their restaurants and shops during Pride month in Brighton when they wouldn't even let their sons/daughters marry outside their caste or community, let alone allow them to date outside of the heteronormative binary. I mean, calm the f*** down, Ravikaant! Get rid of the bigotry you brought along with yourself from the subcontinent first.Share this quote
Moreover, watching first generation diaspora Desis attempting to speak with an English accent with completely messed up grammar to the Desis from the subcontinent is probably the weirdest flex I have come to experience so far here in the UK. They would rather speak in incorrect English over their native language with their own people.
Their gag reflex is commendable for the boot can no longer be seen. However, it is the second and third generation Indians, I feel who are even worse. For them getting in touch with their roots is wearing the kurta, drinking chai, eating Biryani, praying in Sanskrit or Arabic, practising spirituality and Yoga, while simultaneously also judging brown people from the subcontinent for speaking with an accent and treating them in the same way white people treat them – ostracise and alienate them for not acting white enough. Never in my life have I ever felt so particularly tormented by my “T’s”, “D’s”, and “R’s”.
Whiteness, much like gender is a performance and the testimony to this is the fact that not all brown men are considered undesirable. Only those who fail to act white are deemed so because British South Asian men tend to do very well for themselves in the dating scene. My observation of the dating scene here in the UK as a brown man from the subcontinent has mostly been negative. I have largely been treated with an endless number of direct or indirect rejections that were sometimes quite generously manifested with extreme cruelty and many accidentally forgot to censor the serious racist undertones in their sentiments and statements in this process, while in other cases I witnessed nothing but radio silence on dating apps as well as at parties and other social gatherings.
I am well aware of the fact that a brown man initiating a conversation with a woman online has certain implications and brown men have earned that unique reputation for themselves, often for good reasons, although men of every cultural, social, and economic background harass women online but maybe Indian men deserve to be the butt of the joke since they cannot spell “boobs” or “vagina”, unlike white men, who can send a well-framed sentence like, “Send nudes”, that I suppose, communicates the message of harassment more succinctly.
I should specify that I’m not seeking to condone the abovementioned practice of online harassment faced by women online and I have on many occasions had a good laugh on the community I represent and belong to. In fact, I heard this from a fellow British Indian female friend that if there were a hierarchy of physical attractiveness amongst men based on race, brown men are at the bottom followed by black men in the middle and obviously, white men at the top.
Now, I personally do not subscribe to a ridiculous and outdated notion of racial superiority but isn’t it odd that I heard this from a British national? Or is it? In many instances, the reason brown men are seen in this light is well justified, given their creepy online behaviour, constantly bothering women by repeatedly messaging them even after being asked to back off, demanding nudes and other sexual favours from women by sliding into their DMs, their regressive attitude towards women, unapologetic conservatism and misogyny, dehumanizing white women by thinking of them as mere sex objects but I also think it is worth mentioning pointing out how various groups get differently and often disproportionately targeted for the same behaviour.
There have been several instances when my politeness was mistaken for unwarranted advances, when that was not the case at all, to begin with, and there was nothing I could have done to help the situation. This took a severe toll on my self-perception, to the extent of paranoia, when I had grown weary of simply even looking at women in fears that my eyes don’t seem lecherous to them, as I was told on several occasions that they do.Share this quote
This exclusion and alienation were not only limited to dating spaces but in my general social life as well – people clenching on to their belongings whenever me and my other brown friends would board the bus, their collective refusal to sit next to me on the bus, getting abused by racial slurs, being denied entry into certain events or venues that I didn’t realise were exclusively white spaces on the university campus, even encountering physical violence on some occasions, etc and I could go on and on. These are instances of individual discrimination and othering.
I felt excluded as a group when I along with many other non-white friends spent many “white” holidays like, Christmas and Thanksgiving Day, amongst ourselves since we weren’t invited anywhere. However, we didn’t fail to entertain them on Diwali and Holi but I suppose, it makes sense because our cultural and religious festivals are an exotic getaway for white people – “OMG your culture is so colourful! Babe, you’ve gotta lend me your saree and please tell me where from can I borrow a kurta for my boyfriend?” Or when white students dressed in sarees and sandalwood smeared over their forehead with generic adopted “Hindu” names will try to indoctrinate me into the religion I was born into and raised in by selling me the mysticism of Krishna in an amiable exchange for Pedha, which they would fondly refer to as exotic “Milk Coconut Cakes”.
In another instance, there was also a time when a white girl I was briefly seeing made several borderline offensive comments as we were flirting with each other, “Aww, you have such an exotic accent. I wish I sounded like that”, “Where does your accent disappear when you sing in English?”, “What will your parents think if you brought a white girl home? Will they accept me? Will your community shame you?”, “If and when you tell your friends about us, they’ll think you got quite a catch, wouldn’t they?”, “Hindus seem to be way more chilled out in comparison to Muslims (Okay, I seriously don’t know what the last statement is supposed to mean)” quite unabashedly and ignorantly. I chose to ignore these statements maybe because she was right.
I did think I had landed myself quite a catch – I was finally with a white girl. I cannot express the amount of validation I was feeling. My self-esteem witnessed a sudden spike. I was feeling worthy in a long time but it is only recently I have come to realise that the reason I have been repeatedly rejected by white girls over the last one year definitely has got much less to do with the fact that I am brown but more so that I can't act white enough and I refuse to do so in the future.
This is not to suggest that brown men have it the worst. Women of colour have it far worse because on the one hand they are fetishised by white guys while simultaneously rejected or looked down upon by guys from their own community. Brown men have literally made a career out of fantasising dating a white woman and actually being able to do it, courtesy- Kumail
Nanjiani and Aziz Ansari. However, it must be noted that not all brown-skinned women are found equally attractive. If she performs whiteness mixed with a perfect balance of ethnic behaviours, for example- dancing to Bollywood music exotically for the white gaze, cook delicious Indian food, fashion the saree elegantly, etc, then she would certainly become the most priced commodity in the "sexual marketplace".
A lot of women of colour have written about it extensively but I couldn't find anything similar or significant penned by a man of colour on this issue. What I could only find was a Reddit thread that was bashing brown men for being “brown” - like being skinny fat; lacking confidence and charisma (this comes from growing up in a toxic brown culture that always dictates you to bow down to authority) but however if a white guy exhibits the same traits, he is reckoned as cute and nerdy; being religious and close to his culture (okay, this is debatable for a significant part of the brown culture is problematic).
The other stereotypes being - loving his family, not going to the gym and maintain a conventionally attractive body, being workaholics, being worried about securing their future, basically think of every brown stereotype you have heard of - both good and bad. This led me to delve deeper into the nature of these stereotypes. For example, many in the West think Indian men are not very sociable or are boring – that they mostly prefer eating their cuisine, prefer hanging out with their kin, prioritise their family, etc. Basically, that they're very sheltered.
My question is this- why are these ranges of behaviour and value systems deemed undesirable? One must question the very foundations of the bases of these negative stereotypes surrounding Indian men. Upon spending several hours reading up an endless number of threads about “Pajeets” (a derogatory racial slur used for Indian men in many online spaces), I realised that these stereotypes not only stem from deep-rooted racism but are also problematic in a sense that I can’t even articulate.
I mean, if white people's food tasted better, maybe I'd have had consumed it more on a daily basis. We need to question why certain character or cultural traits are defined as "boring" and more importantly why being "boring" in that conventional sense is unwanted. F*** white people's standards!Share this quote
I don't know, perhaps my experiences here have turned me into a segregationist. What I'm trying to understand is that why are these traits seen as unattractive? What do they imply? All these thoughts made me hate myself even more. Oh god, am I beginning to sound like an MRA (Men’s Rights Activist)? I hope I don't end up becoming a brown men's rights activist of sorts. I believe that is the lowest point a man can reach in his lifetime.
I think this goes without saying that I was struggling hard to assimilate within the English society. Maybe a more appropriate way of putting this would be to say that I was struggling to gain their acceptance. I stopped wearing the clothes I had gotten from my home country. I tried dressing more “local” in hopes of getting lost in the crowd so that I am not seen differently. I became overly conscious of my body and facial hair. I decided to groom my eyebrows, hair, and beard. But sadly, I was not so adept at altering my personality as compared to my other Indian peers who were already attempting to speak with a rough British accent after merely two months of having moved here and were next to unrecognisable at parties, not due to their appearance but their sudden change in mannerisms. They would assume a certain pretentious aura – they would act extra friendly and polite, talk in a weird accent but failed attempt to sound more English, talk poorly about their home country and its problems in front of a white audience in order to garner their sympathy. Basically, they started to inadvertently behave and sound like white people.
Having to see these things first hand often made me cringe really hard but I also thought that this was a quintessential ritual for socialising in this country. But often upon observing such behaviours of my peers closely, it made me question or rather puzzled whether in their pursuit of trying to imitate the English, were they really making a caricature out of themselves or the English without their knowledge? I strongly felt the pressure for catching up with this behaviour as I was lagging behind. Realising that I was failing to be white came at huge personal costs. It is also very interesting to note that most of these students unsurprisingly belonged to upper castes, came from big cities, and had had a very elite educational background. I think it would be very interesting to study the role of caste networks in light of brown acculturation in a predominantly white society but that is a discussion best left for another day.
As is evident from my experiences, I think it is safe to say that I have clearly been rejected or excluded because I was looked at with certain assumptions, that is, I was creepy or unattractive, and race played a key role in all of this. I want to introspect whether those judgements or lack of validation from white folks are actually important to/for me. Not to ignore the fact that on the other side of the spectrum many men of colour seem to suffer from white skin fetishism, which is the by-product of an unholy union of colonial indoctrination and patriarchy.
I was trying to introspect whether I suffer from it as well or whether I specifically focused on those feedbacks from white women. If yes, was it because I was specifically looking forward to dating or sleeping with them? That would be pretty disgusting, wouldn’t it? Moreover, I believe that my lifestyle or habits are incompatible with white culture. I am culturally very brown, and unapologetically so. Okay, maybe apologetic for the bigotry and other garbage my culture brings to the table. Therefore, I don't think I can be in a relationship with a white person on a long term basis and if that is not my intention, I was perhaps unintentionally specifically looking forward to sleep with white women because I don't want them to be my wild kink or sexual trophy as I would be dehumanising them in the process due to my white skin fetishism.
God, I'm sick of evaluating and examining myself from the white lens and subjecting myself to white standards. I am tired of hating on myself for my cultural baggage. This has been one of the major reasons behind my deteriorating mental health as well but I was always very sceptical about where this disappointment and sadness was coming from - whether it was racism or it was my male entitlement (that would be invisible to me for obvious reasons) that might lead me to turn into an incel (involuntarily celibate).Share this quote
Therefore, I have made a conscious decision for myself for my remaining days in this country- I have decided to stop dating white girls or at least actively associate with or pursue them romantically or sexually, simply because I wouldn’t want to give my oppressors the chance to colonise and fetishise my brown body and shame me for my cultural baggage. I have learnt this the hard way that this is a struggle that cannot be won - no matter what I do; I will never be good enough for them. I want to refuse them the power to shame me for my brownness by reclaiming and owning my narrative. This is not to say that I won’t entertain the idea of having white women as my friends. In fact, I consider myself extremely lucky to know a few white women who are absolutely kind and wonderful but I feel it is imperative to state that most white women haven’t done enough on their part to recognise the unequal power relations and acknowledge their privilege. They are well aware of their power and position in society in relation to the centre of power – white men.
They know that they are infantilised to the extent that the society deems them incapable of committing evil acts. They understand that they are on the top of the list of groups of people who ought to be rescued or saved, followed by people of colour clustered all together. Hence, they have learned how to exploit the paranoia surrounding the tears of white women and the testimony to this fact is the endless number of men of colour who have died because of white women’s now weaponised fear. They are the first people who would gaslight POCs and downplay their experiences. I can at least vouch for this from first-hand experience.
This is how the conversation usually goes:
White women: When a survivor comes out with her traumatic story, you don't tell her that you won't believe her until she can prove it. You believe that she was wronged and you proceed to investigate as if she were wronged.
Person of colour: I may have experienced racism at the party last night.
White women: How so? Because of your colour? Did he actually say that?
Did they specifically use a racist slur? I am thinking that it was possibly not racism, but typical good 'ol fashioned bullying.Share this quote
I am sure, you as a reader must have a couple of questions in mind by this point: “Isn’t this reverse-racism?”
No, you uneducated buffoon! Racism is a very specific structural and institutional problem. Stop throwing around this word so casually. People of colour cannot be racist, as they do not have the social, political, or economic power to let their negative prejudice towards white people alter or affect their material reality in any form or way.
“Isn’t this counter-productive? Is this strategy even helpful?” Perhaps it is not the best recourse to take but it isn’t definitely wrong either. Many women give up on men entirely only after having faced enough misogyny in a patriarchal society and sometimes you have got to take extreme steps in order to ensure your sanity. This reminds me of a famous quote by Muhammad Ali, that is a perfect answer to the "Not all white people" rhetoric:
“There are many white people who mean right and in their hearts wanna do right. If 10,000 snakes were coming down that aisle now, and I had a door that I could shut, and in that 10,000, 1,000 meant right, 1,000 rattlesnakes didn’t want to bite me, I knew they were good... Should I let all these rattlesnakes come down, hoping that that thousand get together and form a shield? Or should I just close the door and stay safe?”
I believe that we as POCs have done enough on our bit to assimilate with the white society. We wear their clothes, we eat their food, we read the works of their intellectuals, we read their history, we speak and study in their language (for f***’s sake I’m writing this very piece in the language of my colonisers!). I suppose what I am really trying to say is that I am unwilling to change my fundamental values, my core attitudes and behaviours, and compromise my identity as an Indian man. I wish to reclaim the stereotypes surrounding brown men. I want to own up the online identity of “Pajeet” that I am subjected to. I shall proudly flaunt my “SEND BOBS AND VAGENE” tee-shirt, ironically of course.
Anyhow, it must be maintained that one has got to be careful in resorting to the aforementioned course of action, considering the fact that I am a cis-gendered heterosexual man. It’s a fine line. The idea here is to attack racism and not condone brown misogyny. I in no way wish to endorse misogyny or want anything to do with misogynists. I simply wish to be brown and proud, openly and unapologetically. I refuse to be seen as an equal by them in accordance with their terms and books.